How to Breathe

During the summer in New York, right around 8 p.m., as we’re heading off to indulge in sangria and sunsets, there is an orange shadow that cascades across the streets, beaming off the buildings, and leaving everything it touches with a crisp, bronzed haze. It is one of my favorite moments in the city all-year-round, and regardless of where I am or who I’m with, just seeing the amber reflection is enough to distract my attention and make me take a big breath.

I was thankful for a moment of clarity before meeting Mr. Unexpected for a celebratory sushi and sake date on Friday night, after a very long, very exasperating week. I had a hard time sleeping every night last week, my nerves never calming down from the many changes of the past few months circling in my head and enticing my heart to race. And though I always get a little anticipant to see Mr. Unexpected, once we start talking, he has a certain way of calming me down, too. Sitting across from him, with the citrus sun still radiating above us, I took another big breath of pure stress release.

In fact, I’ve been reminding myself to breathe a lot lately.

To say this year has been ripe with change, expenses and new experiences would be a vast understatement. If anyone would have told me all of the things that would happen in 2014, I would have never believed them.

Just to recap:

  • My dad had unexpected heart surgery at the start of the year.
  • I had my last day at iVillage – after three years – on a Thursday in April.
  • The next day, I left for a 10-day trip to Paris and Rome with my mom.
  • Two days after I got back, I started my exciting, challenging and entertaining job at WEtv.com.
  • Then I got in – via raffle – to the NYC marathon.
  • Two weeks later I met who I thought would be my roommate for an October 1 move date.
  • Then I realized my lease ended on September 1. (You know, when I’ll be in London visiting J for a week.)
  • Which means I would have to move by August 15.
  • Two weeks later, I met Mr. Unexpected.
  • 20+ dates later, we are an actual thing.
  • The roommate, who I thought would be moving with me, couldn’t anymore.
  • I decided that I couldn’t possibly train for the marathon, go on a big trip, do well in my new job and find an apartment and train for the marathon. So I backed out.
  • So with a month to go to find an apartment, I somehow found two roommates.
  • And a subletter for my current apartment – for just a month.
  • I signed a lease yesterday. To move to the East Village!

Whew.

The funny thing is that I have wanted so many of these things for such a long time: a new job with more responsibility, management and strategy, a man that surprises me with how easy it is to date him, a lease that keeps me downtown and more in the city, and the financial ability to travel more than I have before. I have been ready for these transformations and these interruptions into my daily routine and life – I suppose I just never thought that it would all happen at one time.

Or within the first six months of 2014.

I wasn’t ready for all of this last year and I guess I didn’t consider if I was ready now, but it’s all happening, so I might as well enjoy it, right? I asked Mr. Unexpected that night.

Are we ever ready for these things? He responded, smiling at me from across the rickety table, drinking his sake much faster than me.

And while I agree – most of the best things and hardest things and most influential things that occur in our lives, we rarely see coming – I also think you have to go through a lot of hardship and endure a lot of complacency before you’re brave enough to make a move. (Literally!)

I might have thought I could go from one side of the city to another (and up my rent quite a bit) last year, but I would have buckled under the stress (and the weight of those security deposit and broker’s fee checks). I might have thought that I would be able to savor and enjoy international travel, but that excursion couldn’t have come at a better time: in between two jobs, without having to think about checking email or wondering what was going on in the office. I might have thought that I had patched up my relationship with my father after his cancer scare last year, but there’s something about the possibility of your dad’s heart almost actually breaking to snap you into gratitude mode. And of course, I might have thought I was ready to invest in a something with a someone, but it takes more than a few failed dates to realize your worth – and what you want in a partner.

So am I ready for these things? A new job, a new apartment, a new man, my third new country to visit in about a month? I considered, falling asleep next to him, staring out my Upper West Side window, the one I’ve looked out of countless times, wishing my life would just change already. I felt Lucy by my feet, curling herself into a ball – and like I always do, I placed my hand on my heart to settle it, but it was calm already. For the first time in weeks. I took in that big breath again and I settled my mind, concluding that I don’t know if I’m ready for anything.

But what I do know that the only thing I have to know is how to breathe. And to trust. I have to remember that if struggles have taught me anything, it’s that I always have myself to depend on in the end, no matter what. And that fact is enough to make me – with all of the stress and the anxiety and the uncertainness of everything roaming my thoughts – relaxed enough to let go.

And with the biggest breath of all, let it happen.

 

 

About these ads

And Then Mr. Unexpected Came Along…

The weeks after I returned from Europe were one big blur: getting over jet lag, starting a new job that starts an hour earlier than my last one, and getting my finances, insurance and 401k set up and settled.

Needless to say, I wasn’t focused on dating and quite honestly, didn’t have much time or energy for it. (Especially since all the running blogs were telling me I needed to start my marathon training… yesterday.) It was after a long, sweaty run in Central Park on a Wednesday, while I was picking up odds and ends at the grocery store that the dating app, Hinge yelled at me for not logging in for a while.

You could be missing great matches! It said.

Mmmk, Hinge. Whatever you say.

I’m not really a big fan of Hinge and at that point, I had never been on a date from it, mainly because while the concept is smart (10 matches a day, must have at least a third-degree Facebook connection), the technology is lacking. Most of the time when I opened it, it crashed before I could even decide if I thought a guy was cute or not.

So why I decided to open it that day, I still don’t know, but I did. And I’m glad I gave it a whirl, because there waiting in the inbox was a message sent while I was in Rome from…

…Mr. Unexpected.

It was hard to tell exactly what he looked like – he isn’t a big fan of having his picture taken. But from the few selections, I could tell I was into this tall, dark, Greek daytrader – who apparently liked sports, dogs and fishing. He went to college in North Carolina, so at the very least, I reassured myself, he would understand and maybe share my Bojangles obsession (and extreme longing for it). His message was smart and short, enough to get my attention but not so intense it turned me away. I responded with my phone number (not in my character, but I had to get off that faulty app before it completely failed).

Mr. Unexpected asked me out for the next day – a Friday, after work. He hinted to dinner but kept it cool with drinks first – ya know, just to make sure we could tolerate one another for an entire meal.

Turns out we could. And that’s when everything started to become rather unexpected:

I usually don’t get tipsy on a first date – but by the time we headed to Bowery Kitchen, I lost all track of time and wits and … I had already downed three cocktails. He ordered us a bottle of red at dinner and suddenly, the me with a big appetite, had zero interest in the lobster roll or the skirt steak… instead I wanted to be that girl who kissed a guy on a first date in a restaurant. (Sorry -I’m not sorry- other patrons!)

When we left, we got caught in the rain and huddled underneath an umbrella, his 6’3-self attempting to hold it over his head and my head without both of us getting soaked (it didn’t really work, but was cute, nonetheless). We found a covered building and made out for a bit, laughing at the irony of the “romantic kissing scene,” and generally just savoring the unexpected moment.

And then I became Ms. Unexpected myself:

We could go to a place near my apartment, I said. I have to walk Lucy anyway.

We grabbed a cab uptown from Soho and had another glass of wine before heading back to my place- I won’t give details (quite yet) but while a deed wasn’t done, it was evident that Hinge quite accurately predicted a vibrant chemistry. So much in fact, that after a restless sleep, two giant iced coffees and a stroll in the dog park, I went to brunch and flying trapeze with M, took a shower, took a power nap, and headed downtown again to meet him, less than 24 hours later for dinner and drinks.

And so far, a month later, he’s still proving that the unexpected can be so much easier, so much sexier, so much more relaxed than when you follow the rules.

Because I’ve been having a lot of fun breaking them.

I don’t ever take home someone on the first date, and I usually never agree to dinner so early in. I rarely do back-to-back dates, or as I’ve called our first/second date: the marathon date. (If only actually running the marathon would be the easy!) I usually try to be nonchalant and uninterested, playing a game that I’m not good at until the bitter end, but instead, we send each other slightly inappropriate memes, pictures of our dogs, talk sports (ahem, thanks E for explaining hockey to me) and just let it flow.

As for Mr. Unexpected, he continuously sparks my curiosity with his candor, his charisma, the way he challenges me – in many ways – and what he picks for dates – a Yankees Game (my first one), a family-owned Spanish restaurant he frequents, potato chips and beer in bed, watching YouTube and perhaps a comedy show in the week the come.

From how it started to where it’s going – the most exciting part and yet, the thing that makes me at ease, is how I never saw it coming. And for once, I put aside the things that make dating feel like such a chore, and I just let someone surprise me. I just went with it and let the ride take it’s course.

Ya know what? Six or seven (or something?) dates later, Mr. Unexpected is still keeping me on my toes. And as he said, “I can’t be ‘unexpected’ forever, I have to turn into something, right?

He does. And I bet I won’t expect whatever that will be.

He Loves You

You will wear blue on your first date – that dress from Calvin Klein that you got on sale at TJ Maxx, that your best friend made you buy because it makes your eyes pop. It will take every last single ounce of energy you have to actually leave the comfort of Netflix and takeout to join a stranger – yet another stranger for drinks at a place far too many subway stops away. You’ll wear flats and change into heels. You’ll put on that lipstick that promises to stay on past infinite drinks and hours (but really never does). You will answer the same questions with the same answers, you will smile on cue and you’ll never miss a line. Until you do. Until something feels different. Until something – or someone – puts you off your game. Throws you off an edge. Challenges you to put yourself – and that tricky little heart – out there more. One date will turn into another, which will turn into texts and phone calls and more dates, and more words and more touching and more feeling. More, more, more! It will all start to feel like more than before, than what you thought you were still capable to experience with an open heart and lofty imagination. You will become a lighter version of yourself, wondering when the other shoe will drop, when the dark demons in his closet will make their grand appearance, when the texting will cease to continue, when all of the everything will crumble. As it has. As it does. As it… hasn’t, so far? You will keep holding your breath until…

…he loves you.

You will change your Facebook status and he won’t mind. It might not mean much to him but the switch is enough to help you rest a little easier, knowing that cyberspace received the memo that he is taken. That you are, too. You will feel strangely uncomfortable bound to something committed and monogamous, a term that hasn’t entered your vocabulary in such a long time, you may have to look up the definition to remember it. You will have sleepovers and he will meet your friends. You’ll add him on Gchat. He’ll change your name to “Blue Eyes” in his phone, because that’s what he calls you. You’ll challenge yourself to go a couple of days without mentioning his name to your friends – mainly because you hear the annoyance in their replies – not because you have ran out of things to share. You will notice things of his left behind at your apartment, things that are so ordinary they should be insignificant but as his watch lays next to your perfume, his toothbrush next to yours, they feel so much more powerful – so oddly romantic – that you have to stop yourself from looking at them. You will go away for the first time and he will introduce you to his parents. You’ll let him walk your dog all by himself. You’ll talk about next year like it’s guaranteed, and you’ll pretend you don’t think about the bigger things that every relationship columnist (including myself) will tell you to never speak of until the time comes. Your heart will finally experience all of those things it was always promised but never believed would happen. You will feel those tingly, giddy, ridiculous things that you never wanted to be that girl who smiled like that over some guy. But you are. Because that guy – that man you’re falling for…

…he loves you.

You will wonder if you moved in together too quickly or if the beautiful rush of the beginning could cause an ugly crash at the end. You will compare yourself to every relationship, every right thing or wrong thing that you’ve perceived in your mind to determine love, until you really can’t take the pressure anymore. You will study his face in the way you did when you first met – when you used to count his freckles and admire his long eyelashes – and instead, you’ll try to find that glimpse of attraction that used to make you weak in the knees. You’ll wonder how those original images of perfection faded into something so everyday, something so routine that you can’t (honestly) remember the last time you made love. Or had really hot, dirty sex. You will do your best to stomach the envy you harbor over those girls who still get to feel those butterflies, that precious new-beginning anxiety that is so terrible in the moment, and so seemingly beautiful when you look back at it, now. Now. Years into your relationship. Years into love. Years into answering questions about who will do the dishes and who will pick up the rice and who will buy the dog food this week. Years into building a life with the man that you think – that you truly, really know – is The One. So why isn’t it magical all the damn time? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be if…

…he loves you?

You’ll reach a happy place. It won’t come all at once, like life often does, but instead it’ll gradually manifest into something so powerful that you don’t need to label it to enjoy it. You will let go of those notions that you held so dear and you’ll trade them for the reality. The reality of watching reality TV and splitting a six pack with pizza on a Saturday night in your pajamas because there are no needs for the frills anymore. But you won’t forget about those frills, either. They are there in the back of your mind, in the corners of your memories, in those stolen moments that you still have from time-to-time when you take a weekend away. In those brief seconds where you see him from across the bar and his glance doesn’t catch you first, but you catch that feeling you had when you first met. You’ll find yourself amazed at how much you really do love him, how much he really does get you going. How much the deeper love is harder and less exciting than the superficial one. But it’s better. It’s so much better. It’s the love that’ll last, you tell yourself. It’s the love that makes you a better person, a better woman, a better lover. It’s the love that’ll make him get down on bended knee and ask you that question you haven’t been asked before. The question he’ll pop because…

…he loves you.

You will close your eyes and when you open them, you’ll be standing on the front porch – or the front ledge – of the home or apartment you bought. You’ll look behind you and see the children conquering their destruction, the laundry piling up in the living room, the boobs sagging a bit more every day. You’ll scroll through your old Facebook photos and you’ll see yourself laughing with your friends at a warehouse party in Brooklyn. Back when you had time to host a monthly Supper Club, back when your income was split between a little savings, a lot of wine and even more traveling. You’ll see the man you married, the hunk of a guy that your mom admired and your dad approved of, and you’ll see his hair graying. Or falling out. You’ll watch him manage a budget and manage a screaming baby – and he’ll never seem sexier to you (even if neither of you have the energy these days to get it on). You’ll wonder if you should have another baby. If you can afford one. If your body can take it. You will collapse into bed at the end of yet another exhausting day, sure that you’ll maybe steal four hours of sleep – if you’re lucky – and you’ll feel his body press up against you. And he’ll remind you. Just in case you forgot. Just in case you need to hear it. Just in case you’re feeling out of touch and out of your mind… that…

…he loves you.

You will not meet this man – not today, not tomorrow. You won’t meet him next month or next year. You won’t meet him in a sweet, unusual way or online. You won’t meet him because you try really hard or because you put yourself out there every single Friday and Saturday night, hoping for the best, working the room with your hips. You won’t meet him because you pray for him or because you want to or because you absolutely can’t imagine spending another year 100 percent single, 1,000 percent alone. You won’t meet him because it’s the right time or because you drop those 10 pounds or because you’re ready. You won’t meet him at all if you don’t accept that yes…

…he loves you.

Because you are worthy of love. That you are worthy of waiting for the right person. That you are worthy of the best of it all – the thrill of the start, the luxury of the longevity. That you are worth more than those guys you’re dating, the jerks you’re putting up with. That you are worth more than what’s in your past and who has crushed you. That you are worthy of someone truly special, someone truly a match for you, someone who truly loves you for those things that make you, you. That before there will ever be a man who loves you through the good, the bad, the wrinkled, the messy, the sloppy, the tension, the arguments, the lackluster, the magical – you have to know you are worthy of him.

And even if he hasn’t said it, even if you haven’t met him, even if you’re still working on believing he exists (we all are). Know that there is a man. There is that man for all of us. And he will love you.

She Will Be Loved

When Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” first started spamming the radio, I was dating Mr. Faithful, my high school boyfriend. I loved the words and I soaked them all in, paying special attention to the “beauty queen of only 17” which was true at the time, and of course, “drove for miles and miles and ended up at your door,” which I dreamed of in many fantastic romantic clichés.

I imagined then that Mr. Faithful was the end-all-be-all for me, the love of all loves, the last man (and only man) I’d ever invite into my bed and into my heart. I instantly sent the song to him and he played it for me a few times while we drove the rolling country roads, and even when we made love in the way only a 17 and 18 year old can. Sweetly, naively and awkwardly.

I hadn’t thought about him or those premature stages of teenage love affairs in a long time, but on my way to a date recently, that song came on my Pandora. And suddenly, it all came flooding back:

Back to when I got drunk off cheap wine coolers and sweet hand-written words on notebook paper. Back to when I could spend hours cuddling in his backyard on a trampoline, talking about the future like we knew what was coming and where we were headed. Back to when flowers were picked from gardens and corsages were given at prom and graduation. Back to when dating a football player seemed so sexy and so important, back to when I watched the lights bounce off of the lake, dreaming about when I’d see lights bounce off of buildings in the Big Apple I’d only visited once.

Back to when I was unaware of what those lyrics really meant, or what they would mean, or how intensely I would feel everything in the years to come. How fleeting and innocent young love is, and yet, how final the end would feel in a few years. How much that girl who always knew there was a life ahead of her beyond the mountains, just waiting.

How that girl had no idea that this girl was always somewhere inside of her, waiting to fly, waiting to leap, waiting for that big opportunity, that big love to happen. How that girl had no idea just how much this girl would be loved…

…She would be loved by men who crossed oceans and took redeyes to arrive on the doorstep of her Harlem apartment with tulips, chocolate cake and a flood of kisses. She would be loved by men who made her homemade Valentine’s Day cards using the old-school paint program and drop off an orchid off at her office – along with a coffee, just like she liked it. She would be loved by men who walked a mile in 6-inch snow to the closest grocery store to buy the staples, including her favorite orange juice, with extra pulp.

She would be loved by men who left notes hidden inside picture frames that hung on her wall in her second New York apartment, and long after the relationship ended and the flame died down, they would ask her to open that picture and find words of encouragement buried inside of it, unknowingly, for years. She would be loved by men who make her homemade gnocchi and ask her to dance in the kitchen, barefoot and underage-tipsy, kissing the top of her head and whispering things in her ear she would never reveal to anyone, not even this blog. She would be loved by so many men that would see her sad smile, who would stand outside in the rain with her, who would care for her even when she preferred someone else.

And somewhere in between all of those men, that girl would also learn to love her own broken smile. And she’d learn how to heal it. She would watch the storm coming in as she ran miles and miles in Central Park and she’d let the rain fall, washing away her mascara, the sweat and her frustrations. She would love someone when they didn’t love her back. She would learn to love herself, even when she didn’t quite like the person she was.

She would be loved by the men, sure, just as promised. But she would also be loved by strangers and friends, mentors and travel mates. By a white fluff that would capture her heart from a pet store in the West Village. By her parents, more and more, with every passing year.

That girl just didn’t know all the love that was coming her way. Not at 15, not at 20, and really, not even at 25. Because that girl has been loved… and will be again. In a way that this girl –that girl – can’t even begin to believe yet.

It’s Hard to Stay Single

I watched the smoke fade into the streetlamp, delicately – seductively – making it’s way from the lips of a stranger, only to disappear into the night. It was colder than I expected and I was weaker than I imagined, downing uncountable glasses of wine at this fine establishment in Paris.

Le Parigot? Le Pearle? Le something.

I couldn’t remember the name and they didn’t have it posted anywhere I could see from my window seat, covered up almost completely in my pashmina from Chinatown, waiting for the silence to be filled up with conversation. My mom examined her hands idly, while skirting eye-contact with me and drinking red wine (my favorite, her least).

I gave her a brave smile and tried to ignore the embarrassment swelling from the pit of my stomach so big that I felt suffocated. The bar was too small. The bartenders were looking at our table. I didn’t have anything to focus on but those cigarette-smoking French women standing outside, laughing about something I would never know about.

It’s okay to cry, honey, my mom whispered, reaching out to hold my fisted hand. It’s healthy, even.

In Paris, mom? In a lovely bar in an amazing city when I’m on an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip with my mother? I responded, bitterly. It’s okay to cry now? When I have so much to be thankful for and I should be so happy?

Well, aren’t you happy?  She asked cautiously – I’m sure she was waiting for me to explode.

The question was simple: happiness? And though I had asked myself the same thing many, many times before, I’m not sure I ever considered the answer as thoroughly as I did then, miles and miles away from my city, far, far away from the life I built. I felt foreign here, distanced from the stresses and the worries that I harbor in New York. I didn’t think about money or career, I didn’t focus on running or staying healthy, I didn’t care about who I was dating or if I was putting myself out there.

In Paris – and yes, in Rome, too – I was just existing.

I was savoring. I was in awe of everything I saw and nearly everyone I met. The food tasted richer, the wine was better, the views were incomparable. Every single second of every single day, I focused on what was happening right then – not what was next, not what it meant, not what it would be – but just what it was.

So why was I crying? I wondered, overwhelmed by a mix of exhaustion, alcohol and intrigue. How could I not be happy in this very moment?

I am happy, I started, slowly. I’m probably happier now than I’ve been in years. But no matter how far away I go or what I’m doing, it’s still there. It still finds a way to creep into my thoughts.

What does? she asked as she motioned for another half-bottle of wine. Mothers really do know best: when their 25-year-old daughters are sort of having a breakdown in a café, ask for more wine.

My fear of being alone, I said firmly.

We both let the words settle there in the very tiny space between us, listening to the other patrons speak in a language we didn’t know, listening to the sound of a bike bell speed down the road, listening to the heaviness of the words and how they sounded when spoken out loud.

But aren’t you more afraid of settling? she smiled at me.

It was that all-knowing grin – the one she only has when she knows she has said something right. When she has broken the barrier of my overindulging emotions and given me a realistic perspective that I (let’s face it: desperately) needed. The wine arrived and as she poured, she continued:

I’m proud of you for that Linds. It isn’t easy to stay single, just like it isn’t easy to find someone worth the work of a relationship. But even though you’ve been lonely and you’ve had some pretty bad dating experiences, and it’s been hard, you have still stuck up for yourself and held out for what you want. And in that, you’ve stood up for love.

I wasn’t crying anymore and I didn’t feel the need to for the remainder of the trip. In fact, the fear that follows me most everywhere started to feel less important, less ambient. It was one of the kindest things that someone has ever said to me – and something that surprised me with its truth:

It is hard to stay single.

It doesn’t seem like it when you’re dating and trying to locate at least one man who actually wants the same thing that you do. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re swiping left and right, replying to messages and trying not to analyze hidden meanings behind mostly meaningless text messages. It doesn’t seem like it when you haven’t had sex in months (and months), and it doesn’t seem like it when you’d give anything – everything! – just to have someone to come home to who loves you unconditionally (and isn’t a fury white pup). The frustration and the fatigue of being single can feel harder than being in a relationship – but in reality…

…being single is a choice. And staying single is difficult to do. Settling, however – that’s easy.

There are more than enough men who would be my boyfriend if I wanted one that badly – but I don’t want just any guy. I’m not looking for someone to pass time with. I’m not in the market for something so casual that it’s forgettable. I’m not in such a rush to be in love that I rush past my standards and forget about what being in love really means and truly requires.

So even if the fear of being alone feels heavy on certain days – and yes, even in Paris – I know that holding out is better than settling into something that ultimately, won’t be worth it.

And if I forget it from time-to-time – as I know I will – there is my mother who will never forget to remind me (just as I’m reminding all of you). As she said when we hugged good-bye, with tears in both of our eyes, after 10 non-stop days together traveling through Europe:

Don’t you settle. He’s a comin’. He’s on his way. I promise.

It might take him a while – but ya know what? I can wait.